A Florida man was arrested Wednesday on charges of conspiring with others in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election to use various social media platforms to suppress and disenfranchise voters.
Douglass Mackey, better known as Ricky Vaughn, 31, was taken into custody in West Palm Beach, Fla. and made his initial appearance in a federal court Wednesday morning.
According to allegations in the complaint, “The defendant exploited a social media platform to infringe one the of most basic and sacred rights guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to vote,” said Nicholas L. McQuaid, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This complaint underscores the department’s commitment to investigating and prosecuting those who would undermine citizens’ voting rights.”
Between September 2016 and November 2016, Mackey conspired with others to use social media platforms, including Twitter, to disseminate fraudulent messages designed to encourage supporters of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to “vote” via text message or social media, an illegal method of voting.
Mackey established an audience on Twitter with approximately 58,000 followers. He allegedly tweeted images of an African-American woman standing in front of an “African Americans for Hillary Clinton” sign with the message “Avoid the Line. Vote from Home. Text ‘Hillary’ to 59925. Vote for Hillary and be a part of history.” The fine print at the bottom of the image read, “Must be 18 or older to vote. One vote per person. Must be a legal citizen of the United States. Voting by text not available in Guam, Puerto Rico, Alaska or Hawaii. Paid for by Hillary for President 2016.
A February 2016 analysis by the MIT Media Lab ranked Mackey as the 107th most important social media influencer of the then-upcoming Election, ranking his account above outlets and individuals such as NBC News (#114), Stephen Colbert (#119) and Newt Gingrich (#141).
“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” said Seth D. DuCharme, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes. They will be investigated, caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
The tweet included the hashtags “#GoHillary” and another slogan frequently used by the Candidate. According to data presented in the complaint, “At least 4,900 unique telephone numbers texted “Hillary” or some derivative to the 59925 text number, which was used in multiple deceptive campaign images tweeted by the defendant and his co-conspirators.”
“Protecting every American citizen’s right to cast a legitimate vote is a key to the success of our republic,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office. “What Mackey allegedly did to interfere with this process – by soliciting voters to cast their ballots via text – amounted to nothing short of vote theft. It is illegal behavior and contributes to the erosion of the public’s trust in our electoral processes. He may have been a powerful social media influencer at the time, but a quick Internet search of his name today will reveal an entirely different story.”